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Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

by Albert Einstein

I think I could end my blog post there.  Einstein says a great deal about grading without ever knowing it would be taken as a discussion point for us.  Our challenge today in  30 Goals 2011 is “to assess one assignment or project … in a way that doesn’t add a numerical value but has the student seek value in the progress made, the learning achieved, or the work put into it.”  I watched the video (click on the link), read the challenge, and walked away from the computer for most of the rest of the day.

My thoughts and emotions are mixed regarding this challenge.  One side of me laughs at the challenge: how am I going to get my students to even try something if there is no grade to put in the grade book.  Therein lies the problem. Our society has placed such a high value on “the grade,”  the GPA, and the class rank, State testing, ACT, SAT, AP and so much more that learning for the sake of learning and the pride that comes from within is lost. The real loser is the student.

Back to my initial moment of laughter: how am I going to get my students to try something that doesn’t have a numerical value attached to it?  First, I’d like to train them in appreciating “the process” of learning. I want them to see that there is learning in each step of what we do.  My first step began today.  One group of students are finishing a project this week.  I’ve spent time with them setting up their foundational skills, presenting examples, modeling the information, making the theme authentic (in theme and product), presenting the project, and giving the project purpose. Their final leg of the assignment has 2 steps: they are to post their Glogs on edmodo with a comment/abstract plus respond to other posts (with guidelines provided), and complete a google docs evaluation.  The edmodo post allows them to boast about their product and provide positive feedback to others.  It’s an affirming experience.  The google docs evaluation is designed to illicit information about their experience all the way through.  It’s a self-evaluation about their successes, failures, needs, and wants from this project and for future ones.  In the end, my goal is to provide the students opportunities to show value in themselves and others; and, to be able to talk about their experience as something that is valued as much as the end product.

I tried to apply the challenge to something immediately, so it wouldn’t be just a topic to blog about, but one to put into action immediately. I want to find the value in the process just as much as I want my students to do.  I may not fully accomplish this goal for some time, but I’ll be working on it as the challenge continues.  The numbers aren’t going to go away for some time, but there’s still room for value in the process of learning.


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Rewards and punishments, carrots and sticks. We’ve all used these before, to varying degrees. Honestly, I hadn’t yet thought of them as being part of a “Motivation 2.0” world. Actually, I hadn’t thought of motivation as being demonstrated by various stages in history. There are many things that motivate us, I’m still pondering if these three stages are an over-simplification or not. What I can concur with, is that schools are generally in a Motivation 2.0 stage.

We want our students to be using higher order thinking skills. We have Bloom’s Taxonomy (I confess to attaching it to my lesson plan book every year). We have inquiry-based teaching/lessons/methodology. We know we want to reach a different level of thinking and achievement with our students. The question remains – how do we motivate them?

We motivate with grades, class rank, AP test scores and college credit, pizza or ice cream parties, candy, free homework passes, and so much more. We do dangle the carrots. Why do we do this? We were taught that way, those are the examples we’ve seen, the students respond to this and other similar responses. It’s easier to fall back on “tradition” (long-term effectiveness not in question) than to try and harness that biological drive towards motivation. We appreciate those students who have it, are very thankful to have them in class. But, have we tried to foster this – consciously? Or, do we pat ourselves on the back when it does happen?

Interview with Dan Pink: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/carrots-and-sticks-are-so-last-century-conversation-author-dan-pink

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Performance pay. There’s an idea. Some school districts are using it. It’s another carrot to dangle in front of us to “motivate” us to work harder with our students. It’s a reward before the measurement. Something to work towards. Something new. In difficult economic times, many of us will jump at the hope of an increase in pay (especially when we haven’t had a raise and aren’t getting one).

Measurement. That’s where the questions here lie. How is this determined? What tools are being used? If we use state standardized testing, what about those subjects areas or grade levels that are not tested? One hates to hear the term favoritism, but can that happen? It does in the business world. Would this be used as a punishment as well? It can in the business world as well.

As much as many don’t want to publicly admit, there is a business side to education. The difference is that most educators are not business people. Most of us drawn to education are drawn for reasons besides the pay. Dan Pink said that “educators understand the differences between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation better than almost anyone in American society.” I think there’s truth in that statement. Our reward is different. While we would definitely appreciate a better pay scale (as in many other countries around the world), I think we are the students who had that motivation to learn from the start.

I like something else that Dan Pink said, “Pay people enough so that they are not focused on money, but they are focused on doing their job well.”

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It’s taken me some time to process this. Perhaps I just thought too much of my teaching prowess, my ability to connect with my students, my ability to get even the most problematic of students to engage at least somewhat with the material.  Perhaps I spent too much time in the affective mode rather than the content itself. Perhaps…  “Perhaps” leaves big gaps without providing concrete answers.  The end result was a disastrous classroom moment which included an impromptu visit from an administrator. Disastrous.

As an experienced educator I find it hard to reconcile, rationalize, or justify that period of time. On the other hand, after surviving the next class period unscathed, I doubt the students have thought again about it. Perspective.

“Things” happened in class that day: nothing illegal, no real violence, no one was physically hurt.  Detentions could have been written. I could easily have pushed for even more than that with a couple of students. This hasn’t been done. I’d like to say that this hasn’t been done “yet,” but discipline should be immediate. Should.

The actual events or actions don’t seem to matter.  What matters are two things; 1, the professionalism on my end and 2, the student reaction.  Personally, I never yelled. I did question their motivation and thoughts, but never yelled or cursed.  My ability to manage a classroom comes into question, especially if this is the only view this particular administrator will ever have in that classroom (if it is, then that is an entirely separate discussion to have). The student reaction, however, is certainly notable as well.  Before the end of the week, I had numerous, unsolicited letter and Facebook posts of apology. A star football player personally apologized with tears in the corners of his eyes. The one “Problematic” student that most teachers have already given up on said that not only did I not deserve what went on, but more so because I give him chances that no one else does. Reaction.

There are still issues to address on my end: the catalyst to the classroom disaster, my future preparations and plans, my response to the administrator.

What I want to remember most, however, is ‘how’ the students apologized.  Perspective.

“we are selfish, ignorant, don’t realize the power of our actions, feel a need to stand out, don’t understand most things that happen, get frustrated easily and take it out on others, often forget that teachers have feelings, and we take a lot that we are given/have for granted.
And yet you still put up with us which I find amazing and I think that you are a gift from God and that putting up with us makes you a better person than most. Thank you for being an awesome, kick-butt teacher”

 

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